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Partisan primaries as gatekeepers

May 21st, 2019, 7:06am by Sam Wang


Partisan gerrymandering makes the primary the only election where there is real competition. In the New York Times, a former Senate candidate writes on how even this avenue can be manipulated to reduce competition by the political parties.

The author’s proposed solutions can conceivably help. A top-two primary system, as implemented in California, can increase competition. Elimination of partisan gerrymandering can reduce the number of safe seats somewhat, though his approach, a constitutional amendment, seems doomed to fail. Other approaches, such as state-by-state independent commissions, or H.R. 1, the For The People Act of 2019, have clearer routes to eventual passage.

Comments Off on Partisan primaries as gatekeepersTags: Redistricting

Mueller Report Book Club: Volume II, Obstruction of Justice, with Quinta Jurecic

May 17th, 2019, 11:39pm by Sam Wang


…and here’s our podcast on Volume II. Our guest is the incomparable Quinta Jurecic, of Lawfareblog.

Comments Off on Mueller Report Book Club: Volume II, Obstruction of Justice, with Quinta JurecicTags: 2016 Election · President · U.S. Institutions

Your weekend book club: The Mueller Report

May 10th, 2019, 9:26am by Sam Wang


Been meaning to pick up that Mueller Report, but gotten a little scare of its heft? Wondering what all the fuss is about? Concerned for your democracy? We have the answer for you!

In the latest episode of Politics And Polls, Julian Zelizer launch our book club on the Mueller Report. This week we do Volume I, Russian Interference. Joining us is Marcy Wheeler, who writes about national security issues at Emptywheel.net. Marcy has an enormous amount of in-depth knowledge. We had a focused discussion, complete with page and section numbers.

Get a hard copy of the Report (or use this searchable PDF), brew some tea or coffee, and join us!

In upcoming weeks we’ll do Volume II (guest Quinta Jurecic of Lawfareblog) and constitutional issues (Marty Lederman of Georgetown Law School).

Comments Off on Your weekend book club: The Mueller ReportTags: 2016 Election · President · Princeton · U.S. Institutions

Gerrymandering is in the news…in Bustle!

April 15th, 2019, 1:36pm by Sam Wang


Truly it is now cool to care about gerrymandering. Check out this great article in Bustle. It features Princeton Gerrymandering Project’s own Hannah Wheelen and Ben Williams. Also Katie Fahey, Justin Levitt – they went deep and talked to the right people!

To quote Ben: “Gerrymandering isn’t the issue you have to care about most, but it is the issue you have to care about first.”

→ 7 CommentsTags: 2020 Election · Redistricting

Data Science at Princeton – two jobs available immediately

April 2nd, 2019, 10:57pm by Sam Wang


So, I’ve got two jobs here. Both involve GIS. One’s for redistricting and anti-gerrymandering. The other is for…neuroscience!

  1. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project is recruiting a Data Scientist. Analytics to support OpenPrecincts.org, our data hub to help with citizen redistricting in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. You need both data skills and people skills. Both are needed to coordinate the work of volunteers and peer organizations around the country. The preliminary announcement is here.
  2. The Princeton Neuroscience Institute is recruiting a Brain Atlas Software Product Developer. As part of our BRAIN COGS project to understand memory and decision-making, we’re developing a general curation system to map brain circuits to a universal reference frame. The preliminary announcement is here.

Both of these positions are based at Princeton University. Come join us!

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Discover Your Inner Federalist! Using State Constitutions To Stop Gerrymandering

March 29th, 2019, 11:56pm by Sam Wang


Update, July 17, 2019: The Supreme Court didn’t act to curb partisan gerrymandering. But there’s a second route to justice: state courts. In Slate, the Princeton Gerrymandering Project’s Ben Williams reports. To read about this idea, our forthcoming article [SSRN link] in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law spells it all out.

→ 1 CommentTags: Redistricting

Partisan gerrymandering and the Chief

March 26th, 2019, 8:28am by Sam Wang


Today, the Supreme Court hears two partisan gerrymandering cases, a Republican offense in North Carolina (Rucho v. Common Cause) and a Democratic offense in Maryland (Benisek v. Lamone). The outcome likely hinges on the vote of Chief Justice John Roberts (or Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh…developing…).

In the Atlantic, I review how far the math has gotten in providing objective standards. Researchers have done great work. Even if the Court doesn’t use it, it’s still available for the use of state courts.

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OpenPrecincts.org is live!

March 21st, 2019, 8:45pm by Sam Wang


Until now, politicians had a monopoly on the data needed to draw district maps. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project’s data specialist Hannah Wheelen is helping to change that. Hannah oversees data collection for OpenPrecincts.org, our tool to let citizens talk back to redistricters. She’ll talk about our overall approach, especially our recent efforts in Virginia. We plan for OpenPrecincts to go nationwide in time for 2021 redistricting.

Also, we need partners nationwide. To get involved, write to us at redistricting@princeton.edu! – Sam

When it comes to redistricting, the public is on the wrong end of a tilted playing field. I joined PGP to help level that playing field. This requires lots of data, including (i) where voting precinct boundaries are; and (ii) precinct election results and demographic information. You’d think this information would be publicly available – but it’s not.

US elections are administered locally, so the collection process is difficult. We have to inquire around a state for maps by email, phone, or sometimes even in person. Here is a paper map hanging on a wall in a trailer in rural Virginia. My PGP colleague Ben Williams put aside his legal analysis and drove the windy roads of the Blue Ridge Mountains to take its picture. There is only one copy of the map. They don’t even have cellphone service out there!

At PGP, we turn pictures like this into usable data. We convert everything to computerized shapefiles, marry it to election data, and release it freely to to the public. Our portal, OpenPrecincts.org ​(sneak peek below), allows us to coordinate with data teams around the country, boosting their efforts and generating a resource bigger than any one group can do alone.

We have national dreams: we plan to hit all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico in time for 2021 redistricting – and earlier in hotspots of legislation and activism. This will be the first integrated national database of its kind. We invite you to pitch in time to collect data, donate to fund your state’s collection efforts, or browse states like Virginia that are already completed.

Visit our beta site of OpenPrecincts.org today!

→ 2 CommentsTags: Redistricting

On this morning with Michigan SoS Benson!

March 21st, 2019, 9:44am by Sam Wang


Tune in right this minute!

Sorry, over now…fun and quick. However, you can still listen here.

Michiganders, be on the lookout for chances to join the new Redistricting Commission!

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Princeton brief in Rucho v. Common Cause

March 8th, 2019, 5:26pm by Sam Wang


Wesley Pegden of Carnegie-Mellon University, Jonathan Rodden of Stanford University, and I joined forces on an amicus brief (PDF). We offered the court our views on the federal partisan gerrymandering case from North Carolina, Rucho v. Common Cause (this link goes to all the other briefs as well). We describe to the court how the various tests of partisan unfairness fall into two big categories: inequality of opportunity and inequity of outcome. We furthermore describe how the drawing of many alternative maps can do both jobs.

Wesley Pegden is best known in redistricting circles for a theorem he and co-authors published last year regarding the Monte Carlo Markov chain approach. This approach finds many (typically billions) of maps that are made by making small changes to a candidate map. He showed that if the candidate map is most extreme of N such maps, it must be in the O(1/sqrt(N)) range of maps that can be reached by MCMC. He, Moon Duchin, and Jonathan Mattingly (expert in the N.C. case) have all been applying this approach to redistricting with great effectiveness.

Jonathan Rodden has a long history of drawing ensembles of maps. Using older methods, he and Jowei Chen (now at University of Michigan) have used a random-seeding approach to draw hundreds of maps, not related to one another, to explore a wide range of possibilities.

My own contribution to this brief was to point out that despite the proliferation of map-based and simpler numerical-measurement tests, they fall into two big buckets from a legal standpoint: inequality of opportunity and inequity of outcome. That was the subject of our recent prizewinning entry in the Common Cause contest. Examples include lopsided wins (test of opportunity; applies to N.C.) or uniform wins (again a test opportunity; applies to Maryland). MCMC tests both opportunity and outcome.

We were very ably represented by Tacy Flint. She is a former clerk of Richard Posner and of Stephen Breyer, and she led a legal team at Sidley Austin. All in all, it was a dream team of co-authors and counsel. It was a pleasure to work together!

→ 3 CommentsTags: Redistricting · Supreme Court